Mercedes to face FIA over “secret tyre test” with Pirelli

Mercedes have been referred to the FIA by the Monaco Grand Prix stewards, over a secret test of Pirelli tyres after the Spanish Grand Prix.

It is understood that Mercedes applied for permission to the FIA for the test, but were granted the approval on condition that the Pirelli test car was used. However, it has emerged that Mercedes had ran their own car during the test, which would have granted the team an unfair advantage.

Ferrari and Red Bull have protested the test, and are clearly to gain if Mercedes face sanction for running their own car.

However, it should be noted that the result of the Monaco Grand Prix will stand regardless of any action by the FIA.

Points standings after Monaco Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Sebastian Vettel 107
2 Kimi Raikkonen 86
3 Fernando Alonso 78
4 Lewis Hamilton 62
5 Mark Webber 57
6 Nico Rosberg 47
7 Felipe Massa 45
8 Paul di Resta 28
9 Romain Grosjean 26
10 Jenson Button 25
11 Adrian Sutil 16
12 Sergio Perez 12
13 Daniel Ricciardo 7
14 Nico Hulkenberg 5
15 Jean-Eric Vergne 5
16 Valtteri Bottas 0
17 Esteban Gutierrez 0
18 Jules Bianchi 0
19 Charles Pic 0
20 Pastor Maldonado  0
21 Giedo van der Garde  0
22 Max Chilton  0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Red Bull 164
2 Ferrari 123
3 Lotus 112
4 Mercedes 109
5 Force India 44
6 McLaren 37
7 Toro Rosso 12
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5
9 Williams-Renault 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0

Rosberg takes first victory of 2013 in eventful Monaco Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg has become the 4th race winner of the 2013 season, taking a lights-to-flag victory at the Monaco Grand Prix.

At the start, Sebastian Vettel put Rosberg and Hamilton under immediate pressure, but was forced to recede into 3rd place. Jenson Button got to work on passing his teammate, but was unable to in the opening laps.

However, the McLaren pair began to clash wheels within a few laps, with Perez cutting two corners while battling Jenson. The Brit took to his team radio to complain, while Perez maintained 7th position.

Mercedes’ strategy of backing the rest of the field up began to materialise, as Nico’s 1:22.5 lap times were several seconds slower than those who had pitted early for new tyres. The top 5 – Rosberg, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Raikkonen, were nose-to-tail, while Fernando Alonso in 6th began to slip into the grasp of Perez, Sutil and Button behind.

A cagey first stint limited proceedings until about lap 21, when Rosberg and Hamilton were instructed to turn up the engine and push. This move was copied by the Red Bulls, Raikkonen and Alonso, who all began to catch the leaders again.

A stop for soft tyres for Mark Webber on lap 26 started the pit stop frenzy. While the leaders pitted, Paul di Resta put a brave move on Felipe Massa into Sainte Devote. Felipe’s race didn’t last much longer, as he shunted into the barriers a few laps later, in a similar situation to his crash in Friday practice.

The safety car was deployed, which secured Rosberg’s lead. However, Hamilton was less lucky, being held up while he waited to pit, and slipped to 4th behind Sebastian and Mark.

The safety car pulled in on lap 39, and the racing resumed. Unlike the first stint, there was very little conservative racing, with drivers  immediately getting stuck into fascinating battles up and down the field. Hamilton did his best to get past Webber, while Alonso hunted down Raikkonen. He got slightly wide at Loews, and got a clip from Jenson Button behind as a result, but both drivers were able to continue.

The inter-McLaren battle continued, with Sergio Perez putting a fantastic move on Jenson for 7th place. He then chased down Fernando Alonso for 6th, making another move at the Nouvelle Chicane, but the Ferrari was forced to cut the corner to defend his position.

However, there was no time for the stewards to intervene just yet, as the red flag was out for a crash at Tabac. Pastor Maldonado was squeezed by Max Chilton, and the Williams was launched into the barriers, luckily getting away unscathed.

After a quick scramble where all the drivers changed their tyres, the race restarted 20 minutes later. Alonso was instructed to hand his place back to Perez, and it only got worse for the Spaniard after that – he was soon put under pressure by Adrian Sutil in 7th. A mistake at Loews corner put the Ferrari wide, and Adrian wasted no time in punishing the 2-time world champion.

A crash by Jules Bianchi at Sainte Devote out out double-waved yellows, but the safety car was soon to make another appearance. This time, it was Romain Grosjean who caused a crash on the Monte Carlo circuit, spearing into Daniel Ricciardo at the Nouvelle Chicane, putting both cars out on the spot.

But after the safety car peeled away, the carnage wasn’t over yet. On lap 70, Sergio Perez clashed with Kimi Raikkonen under braking out of the casino tunnel, breaking Perez’s front wing and giving Kimi a puncture. The McLaren retired several laps later with a brake issue, while the Lotus was left stranded in 16th with only a few laps to go.

However, Raikkonen pulled off an amazing raft of overtakes on his final stint, passing Chilton, Van der Garde, Bottas, Gutierrez and Hulkenberg in a matter of laps, and continuing his 23-race streak of points-scoring races.

Up front, Rosberg maintained a 4-second gap to the Red Bulls until the chequered flag, taking an emphatic victory in his home city. Teammate Hamilton chased down Mark Webber for the second half of the race, but couldn’t find a way past. Sutil took an excellent 5th place, with Button, Alonso, Vergne, di Resta and Raikkonen finishing the top 10.

While Mercedes can finally rejoice in their first victory of 2013, it is Sebastian Vettel who gains the most, stretching out an 18-point lead to Kimi Raikkonen in the drivers’ championship.

Rosberg takes thrilling Monaco pole position

Nico Rosberg has taken his third pole position in a row for the Monaco Grand Prix, after a fantastic shootout between 5 different drivers in challenging conditions.

Lewis Hamilton was once again cast to one side, and forced to settle for 2nd place. Sebastian Vettel was extremely close to the Mercedes drivers, just a single tenth of a second off the pace.

Q1

The rain began to fall half an hour before Q1 began, dampening the track to the extent where intermediate tyres were a necessity.

Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean remained in the garage though, as both drivers were undergoing repairs after shunts in third practice. Grosjean made it out with 5 minutes to go, and got through to Q2, but Massa will start tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid.

Jules Bianchi became the third driver to encounter trouble, after his Marussia overheated while waiting in the pit lane, then failed on the run up to Massenet.

The session was filled with small incidents, mostly drivers locking their brakes at Sainte Devote and Mirebeau, as well as the Nouvelle Chicane. The changing conditions allowed Giedo van der Garde to slip into the next session, at the expense of Paul di Resta, who was left fuming on the team radio.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

17) Paul di Resta – 1:26.322

18) Charles Pic – 1:26.633

19) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:26.917

20) Max Chilton – 1:27.303

21) Jules Bianchi – N/A

22) Felipe Massa – N/A

Q2

The times again tumbled throughout Q2, going from 1:35s to 1:23s in a matter of minutes.

The decision to switch to slick tyres was first made by Giedo van der Garde, and quickly copied by the other teams. The Caterham driver managed to qualify an impressive 15th place, ahead of Pastor Maldonado.

Jean-Eric Vergne made it into Q3 for the first time this season, while Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean were frustrated to be knocked out of Q2. Valtteri Bottas stayed out on intermediate tyres too long, and it resulted in him being only 14th.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:18.331

12) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:18.344

13) Romain Grosjean – 1:18.603

14) Valtteri Bottas – 1:19.077

15) Giedo van der Garde – 1:19.408

16) Pastor Maldonado – 1:21.688

Q3

The track had dried sufficiently for all drivers to start on super-soft tyres as Q3 began. After drivers’ first round of laps, Sebastian Vettel was on provisional pole.

Fernando Alonso changed tyres in the final few minutes, but he struggled massively to put temperature into his tyres. He eventually got a fast lap together, but it was only good enough for 6th place. Kimi Raikkonen was similarly not quick enough for the pole shootout, taking a quiet 5th position.

While both McLaren drivers made it through to Q3, they didn’t impress in terms of pace. Sergio Perez took 7th, while Jenson Button was 9th, behind Adrian Sutil’s Force India.

It was therefore a clear-cut Red Bull vs Mercedes shootout, with Vettel taking first blood. However, a set of searing laps from both Rosberg and Hamilton locked out the front row, with Vettel and Webber being forced to settle for row 2.

 

Honda’s comeback proves F1’s new engine formula is working already

The return of Honda as an engine supplier to Formula 1 is very welcome news. Even better is the expectation that more suppliers will follow, and cause a greater variety of engine combinations on the grid.

In recent years, we have seen the number of companies supplying power units drop all the way down to 4 – Mercedes, Renault, Ferrari and Cosworth. The latter of these is reducing its involvement with the sport, with Caterham and Williams having switched to Renault power in the last few seasons. Now only supplying Marussia, it is very clear that they will most likely not survive the switch to the V6 engines next year. To have only 3 different types of engine on the grid for too long would be a disaster for the sport.

However, this Honda deal has revitalised the engine market. With Renault upping the prices for their turbocharged units next year, teams like Lotus, Williams and Caterham might be encouraged to switch to the Japanese company from 2015 onwards.

Other manufacturers such as Audi and Volkswagen have previously expressed interest in returning to F1, and it’s always possible that we’ll see more suppliers arrive in the next few years. All of these signs clearly indicate that the FIA’s new engine formula is already proving to be successful.

The FIA’s aim was to encourage large manufacturing corporations back into the world of F1, while also presenting a new technical challenge that keeps the teams on their toes. While it remains to be seen how the on-track racing is affected by these new changes, I believe that the new engine suppliers will provide a huge boost to Formula 1’s credibility and excitement in the coming years.

Honda to return to F1 as engine supplier to McLaren in 2015

Honda is to make its return into Formula 1 after a 5-year absence, supplying engines to the McLaren team from 2015 onwards.

They last partnered McLaren from 1983 to 1992, resulting in several utterly dominant years with clearly superior turbocharged engines. The 2014 V6 formula has clearly piqued Honda’s interest, with president and CEO Takanobu Ito stating:

The new F1 regulations with their significant environmental focus will inspire even 
greater development of our own advanced technologies and this is central to our
participation in F1. “We have the greatest respect for the FIA’s decision to introduce these new regulations
that are both highly challenging but also attractive to manufacturers that pursue
environmental technologies and to Formula One Group, which has developed F1 into a
high value, top car racing category supported by enthusiastic fans.

Honda dropped out of F1 after 2008, after a second dreadful season in a row. Their last engine supplier deal was to Jordan and BAR in 2002, but it seems that the McLaren-Honda releationship is a match made in heaven.

 

Pirelli are an easy target, but F1 is better off because of them

It’s extremely easy to complain about Pirelli tyres and how they’ve influenced the state of Formula 1 in recent years. I can’t go onto a single F1 forum, comment board or Twitter feed without seeing at least one resenting comment on how they’re “ruining” the sport.

It’s clear that many fans are angered by Pirelli’s approach – by creating tyres that deliberately generate extra pit stops, they were always going to come under fire at some point. But the complaints against them are becoming increasingly irritating, and I’m starting to feel that their detractors are missing the point.

Look back to Spanish Grands Prix several years ago, as recent as 2009. There was absolutely no on-track action, as every single position change was managed through the pit stops. It’s not a recent thing either – the 1999 Spanish Grand Prix saw ONE overtake in the entirely of the race. Just one.

Pirelli have completely revolutionised the way F1 races, and for the better. Fernando Alonso may have jumped Sebastian Vettel in the stops, but it wasn’t completely necessary, seeing as how easily he and Vettel soon dispatched with Nico Rosberg. Overtaking is finally possible in tracks like the Circuit de Catalunya for the first time in years, and it has benefited the sport massively.

Nevertheless, the argument that the tyres are “artificial” won’t go away. More worryingly, even some drivers complain that they’re only pushing at 90% during the race, conserving tyres instead of pushing as hard as possible. Vettel was the clearest example of this today, not even opposing several drivers and letting them past.

However, it’s important to remember that the winning driver did none of this. Fernando Alonso pushed as hard as he needed to, utilised a 4-stop strategy without breaking a sweat, and reaped the rewards. It’s quite clear nowadays that the drivers that win races and the drivers that sit around and complain about the tyres are mutually exclusive. I’m looking at you, Webber.

The best drivers will win races regardless of the circumstances. Alonso knows this, and so does Kimi Raikkonen. Both drivers have proven to be excellent at mixing tyre management with searing pace, ignoring delta times (target lap times) and just focusing at the job in hand. Their efforts have been rewarded, and we will see more of this as the year goes on.

But at the same time, complaints about Pirelli still won’t go away. An excellent article by Will Buxton today demonstrates why this doesn’t matter:

Formula 1 loves a villain and this year Pirelli has been cast into this pantomime 
role. But, as I explained at the end of the Spanish Grand Prix in my final thought 
on the NBC Sports Network, the job of a Formula 1 team is to design a car around 
the variables which are unchangeable. Hermann Tilke used to get the blame for 
ruining the show for his apparently dreadful circuit design. But is it not the job 
of the teams to design a car for the circuits on which the championship races? Of 
course it is. Just as it is the job of the teams to design a car that maximizes 
the tyres on which it runs.

What Ferrari showed in Barcelona was that yes you may have to make more pitstops 
than we’ve seen in the past, but that it is possible to push from the moment the 
lights go out to the moment that the flag falls. That so much of the press is 
decrying the race shows, I believe, a disappointing cynicism. Pirelli has become 
too easy a target.

But should we blame Pirelli for simply doing what they’ve been asked to do and 
make the tyres less durable? Or should we blame the teams who have seemingly got 
themselves into the rut of a blame culture that hides the true fact that some have 
not designed a car capable of maximizing one of the unchangeable variables that 
has defined the history of the sport?

I’m looking forward to the next batch of F1 races, and the challenges they will hold. I can only hope that the drivers and other fans do so as well.

Points standings after Spanish Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Sebastian Vettel 89
2 Kimi Raikkonen 85
3 Fernando Alonso 72
4 Lewis Hamilton 50
5 Felipe Massa 45
6 Mark Webber 42
7 Romain Grosjean 26
8 Paul di Resta 26
9 Nico Rosberg 22
10 Jenson Button 17
11 Sergio Perez 12
12 Daniel Ricciardo 7
13 Adrian Sutil 6
14 Nico Hulkenberg 5
15 Jean-Eric Vergne 1
16 Valtteri Bottas 0
17 Esteban Gutierrez 0
18 Jules Bianchi 0
19 Charles Pic 0
20 Pastor Maldonado  0
21 Giedo van der Garde  0
22 Max Chilton  0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Red Bull 131
2 Ferrari 117
3 Lotus 111
4 Mercedes 72
5 Force India 32
6 McLaren 29
7 Toro Rosso 8
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5
9 Williams-Renault 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0

Fernando Alonso dominates Spanish Grand Prix, while Mercedes crumble

Fernando Alonso has taken a commanding victory at the Circuit de Catalunya, taking an emphatic win in front of his home crowd. The Spaniard picked off Sebastian Vettel at the first set of stops, then quickly dealt with Nico Rosberg to assume control at the front, and never looked back.

The Mercedes drivers had an utterly torrid afternoon, only going backwards after the race began. Rosberg somehow held off 5 different drivers for the first stint, but was then swarmed by Alonso, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in a series of corners. After that, he slid further down the order, and never challenged the frontrunners again.

Lewis Hamilton suffered even more, losing positions as early as lap 1. He finished the race in a miserable 12th place, getting lapped just before the end to inflict even more pain. He angrily exclaimed “I just got passed by a Williams” and “I can’t drive any slower” during the race, demonstrating how poor Mercedes’ race pace still is.

Vettel and Raikkonen proved to be Alonso’s only challengers this afternoon. Vettel held off the Ferrari in the opening stint, but could do no more as his Red Bull suffered adversely from heavy tyre wear. Raikkonen showed potential, briefly taking the lead on a different strategy, but couldn’t extract the raw pace to catch Fernando. He finished 2nd, ahead of Felipe Massa, leaping up from 9th at the start, and taking advantage of an early pit stop on lap 9 to obtain his first podium of the year.

Mark Webber had another atrocious start, falling all the way down to 12th by the first lap, but like Massa he took advantage of an early first stop to move up the field. Nevertheless, he never looked remotely on the pace, and 5th place was quite lucky in retrospect.

Paul di Resta took an impressive 7th-placed finish, and even put Rosberg under considerable pressure in the final laps. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were 8th and 9th, but Perez was left fuming after he was instructed not to pass Jenson in the final laps. Daniel Ricciardo took the final point, after a brief scare where he was being caught by Esteban Gutierrez.

Nico Hulkenberg had a race to forget. He pitted 4 times for tyres, once for front wing damage after a clash in the pit lane, and a stop-go penalty for said incident. 

With this result, Alonso moves to within 17 points of Vettel, but Kimi Raikkonen is only 4 points off the lead. Felipe Massa overtakes Mark Webber for 5th, and it has become crystal clear that Lewis Hamilton has effectively dropped out of the title race.

Spanish Grand Prix Friday practice: Alonso threatens the Red Bulls

After three hours of practice for the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend, all we have learned is that the battle between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel is as close as ever. After Alonso topped first practice, he finished second practice only 0.017 seconds behind the Red Bull.

Mark Webber wasn’t too far behind, while Mercedes appear to be dropping away from Ferrari and Red Bull slightly. McLaren brought a raft of new updates to this Grand Prix, but haven’t seen any major improvements yet.

First practice

Although Pirelli brought an extra set of experimental hard tyres for each driver to use, magnificently-timed rain ruined any hope of teams gathering data in FP1.

Intermediates were the way to go for the majority of the session, until the braver drivers tried out the slick tyres with a few minutes to go.

While Alonso led the session in the end, Jean-Eric Vergne managed third place with his final lap, gaining the rewards of being the first driver to take on the dry tyres. Jenson Button, as well as Vettel and Webber, opted not to set flying laps on the drying track, ending first practice at the foot of the timesheets.

Marussia again ran reserve driver Rodolfo Gonzalez in place of Max Chilton.

FP1 times:

Pos Driver                Team                   Time      Gap     Laps
 1. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1:25.252          20
 2. Felipe Massa          Ferrari                1:25.455  +0.203  20
 3. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:25.667  +0.415  25
 4. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault          1:26.042  +0.790  21
 5. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1:26.212  +0.960  24
 6. Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes               1:26.374  +1.122  19
 7. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault       1:26.456  +1.204  20
 8. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault          1:26.614  +1.362  21
 9. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1:26.621  +1.369  21
10. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes   1:26.755  +1.503  16
11. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:26.940  +1.688  26
12. Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari         1:27.061  +1.809  24
13. Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes       1:27.135  +1.883   6
14. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari         1:27.250  +1.998  26
15. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault       1:27.576  +2.324  24
16. Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault       1:28.373  +3.121  14
17. Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault       1:28.600  +3.348  19
18. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth      1:28.887  +3.635  14
19. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       1:29.457  +4.205  11
20. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault       1:29.473  +4.221  21
21. Rodolfo Gonzalez      Marussia-Cosworth      1:30.314  +5.062  13
22. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       N/A                6

Second practice

After Hamilton and Rosberg briefly took top spot, it was Webber and Alonso who battled it out for the first part of the session, with Fernando eventually winning out.

Vettel then set a 1:22.808 to pip the Ferrari to the top spot, with only 0.083 seconds separating the top three drivers.

Hamilton spun at the beginning of second practice, while Paul di Resta’s Force India suffered a third Pirelli delamination in two races.

McLaren could only take 12th and 13th places, and it remains to be seen how effective their new updates will fare around the downforce-heavy Circuit de Catalunya.

FP2 times:

Pos Driver                Team                  Time      Gap     Laps
 1. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:22.808          34
 2. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:22.825  +0.017  35
 3. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:22.891  +0.083  36
 4. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:23.030  +0.222  32
 5. Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:23.110  +0.302  37
 6. Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes              1:23.140  +0.332  35
 7. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:23.398  +0.590  45
 8. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes  1:23.840  +1.032  37
 9. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:24.058  +1.250  31
10. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  1:24.104  +1.296  25
11. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:24.175  +1.367  32
12. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:24.306  +1.498  35
13. Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes      1:24.854  +2.046  31
14. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault      1:24.888  +2.080  38
15. Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari        1:25.167  +2.359  38
16. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:25.321  +2.513  32
17. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari        1:25.441  +2.633  37
18. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault         1:25.851  +3.043  35
19. Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault      1:25.963  +3.155  30
20. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth     1:26.078  +3.270  31
21. Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault      1:26.930  +4.122  35
22. Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth     1:26.970  +4.162  25
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